Members of the Army Corps of Engineers are working overtime right now, inspecting levees along the Mississippi River as high water from the Midwest flooding drains down the river toward New Orleans.
The question is, will the potential high water force officials to open the
Bonnet Carre Spillway?
Teams are placing sandbags next to the Mississippi River north of Baton Rouge to protect 5,000 acres of farmland from flooding. With the river expected to crest four feet above flood stage, Governor Bobby Jindal toured the area Wednesday afternoon.
Corps spokesmen were asked whether the nearby Morganza Spillway would be opened. "We do not anticipate Morganza having to open with the current predictions from the National Weather Service," Corps Natural Disaster Manager Lee Guillory said.
In New Orleans, the Mississippi River is rising, the current is strong, and debris is swirling in the rushing water. At the Carrollton gauge, the level was just about 12 feet, more than four feet below the 17-foot flood stage, and nearly seven feet below the height of the levees that protect the city.
But the Corps has beefed up operations at its emergency operations center as well as the levee inspections.
"We call this Phase One flood fight," Guillory said. "We go out three days a week, 10 hours a day. We have nine sector teams."
The Corps has 25 levee inspectors, like Chris Wagner who found some signs of erosion in the levee next to the Lower 9th Ward and called in crews from the Orleans Levee District.
"They out here putting down some fill, and that'll stop the erosion," Wagner said. Wagner is driving and walking along miles of levee, looking for weak spots where trouble could occur as the river rises.
"Conditions of these levees are pretty good," Wagner said. "We're just finding some minor problems." The crest is predicted to occur on April 7, about a half a foot below flood stage. So, the Corps is not expected to open the Bonnet Carre Spillway to lower the river level in New Orleans.
"We don't believe we'll have the volume of water, of 1.25 million cubic feet per second passing through New Orleans at that time, and that is the decision point that we use," Guillory said.
Dave Reed of the National Weather Service Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center said another couple of inches of rain are expected to fall in the Midwest over the next week or so.
But he said that should not be enough to raise the river levels here in New Orleans, just keep them high for a longer period of time. However, he said the situation must be monitored very closely in coming days, and Corps officials said that's exactly what they plan to do.
Currently the crest of the high waters is traveling down the Mississippi through Missouri and Illinois.